Overview:

Dig-In Meals – A column highlighting Indian spices in recipes that take traditional Indian food and add a western twist!

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If you live in the Bay Area, you are spoiled for choice when it comes to Indian food. We have so many niche Indian restaurants, helmed by a generation of young chefs eager to showcase their heritage, proudly serving native foods from various regions.

Most people concede that Indian cuisine has flavor and depth but it has never been adequately showcased or celebrated in the world of fine dining. Every ethnic group in the United States and every immigrant community that settles in this country brings a taste of home and, at the same time, is influenced by the ingredients and traditions already here. Thus, much like every other cuisine that made its debut in the United States, Indian cuisine also had to transform from its original form to adapt to the taste buds and dietary needs of the resident Americans.

Fast forward to today and we now have several Indian chefs and restaurants that have not only changed the way Indian cuisine is perceived but also won top honors for their culinary delights. Several Indian origin chefs and restaurants have won the coveted Michelin star, James Beard and  Bib Gourmand Award.

Delli Boy Walia

Two Bay Area chefs that have the distinction of earning a Michelin star are Srijith Gopinathan (2 Michelin stars).

The other is the ever charming Delhi boy Ajay Walia, with one Michelin star for his restaurant Rasa (now closed due to pandemic-related reasons.) Walia moved to the U.S. from Delhi to pursue an MBA and worked in Fintech, before he finally ventured into the culinary world and gave California its Michelin star Indian restaurant. 

Saffron In Burlingame

After twenty years of owning Saffron in San Carlos, Walia decided to turn Rasa in Burlingame into a second location of Saffron. The new restaurant provides a more midcentury-modern design in white and oak, compared to Rasa’s sleek black interior, and the food draws from his memories of home cooking.

Ajay Walia of Saffron, in Burlingame, California. (photo courtesy of Mona Shah)

Recently I dined with Ajay in Saffron Burlingame and noticed that it carries forward many of Rasa’s signature progressive South Indian dishes. Old favorites like the Pesarattu Dosa, Uttapam and Bombay Sliders coexist with newer dishes like Old Delhi-style Butter Chicken, General Tso’s Cauliflower and Daal Makhani. 

Madhu Chocolate

I also love that he has partnered with several women owned businesses. Desserts like Cardamom Brûlée made by Hetal Vasavada of Milk and Cardamom and vegan and super yummy kulfi by Priti Narayanan of  Koolfi Creamery. Spices from Sana Javeri Kadri’s Diaspora Spices, and chocolate made by Harshit and his partner, inspired by the chocolatier’s mom, Madhu. The flavors from Madhu Chocolate are to die for, and I highly recommend Masala Peanut, Cardamom Dark and Rose Pistachio.

We were so wowed by their craft cocktails that I convinced Walia to share Saffron’s signature cocktail and spring vegetable Pesarattu Dosa recipes with us. 

Moong Bean Pesarattu Dosa

This is a gluten free, vegan batter that can be filled with nearly anything. It’s best to get your batter prepped the night before you’re ready to cook. 

INGREDIENTS

  • 16 oz green moong beans, uncooked and soaked overnight 
    8 oz white rice, uncooked
    1 oz fenugreek seed
    1 piece ginger, chopped
    1 oz cumin seed
  • 10-15 curry leaves
  • 3 green chilis, chopped

Batter Instructions

Allow at least 10-12 hours or overnight.

1. Add all ingredients to a blender. Blend until smooth, adding water as needed. (You are looking for a pancake/crepe batter consistency.) 

2. Cover with cheese cloth or a dish towel and leave on the counter at room temperature to let the batter ferment (for optimal taste, approximately 10-12 hours). 

3. Move the batter to the refrigerator until you’re ready to cook. This will last, covered, in the fridge for 3-4 days.

Cooking Instructions

1. Heat your griddle. Once hot, add a little bit of cooking oil. 

2. Using a ladle, pour 2-3 oz of the batter onto the heated griddle and spread into a thin, circular shape.

3. Wait for the batter to start browning – you will be able to see the browning from the top. 

4. Using a flat metal spatula, start to lift up the sides of the dosa. You will see a nice golden brown color starting to form. 

5. Once golden brown, slide the dosa off of your griddle and onto your plate. You only need to cook one side.

Fillings

Get creative with your dosa! Shape it like a taco or a wrap and fill it with your favorite protein, a salad, sautéed veggies, diced seasoned potatoes, etc. Great paired with chutney.

COCKTAIL: For Your Eyes Only 

This is literally for your eyes only…a secret recipe never shared before!

Use a Nick and Nora glass for this cocktail. Champagne syrup is a simple syrup made with champagne instead of water. 

For Your Eyes Only. (Photo by Kristen Loken)

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 oz vodka
  • 1 oz gin
  • 1 oz Lillet Rose
  • Absinthe 
  • 1/2 oz champagne syrup
  • Lemon peel garnish

PREPARATION

  1. Rinse a Nick and Nora glass with absinthe.
  2. Stir together gin, vodka and champagne syrup, then add to the absinthe-rinsed glass.
  3. Twist the lemon peel top of the cocktail. Serve.

COCKTAIL: Saffron Sour

This was made specially for me, subbing gin for the whiskey, because I’m a G&T kinda gal! 

Use a Coupe glass.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 1/2 oz. rye whiskey
  • 1 oz. apple schnapps
  • ¾ oz. sweet & sour
  • 1 oz. cranberry juice
  • 1 1/2 oz. egg white 

GARNISH: cinnamon powder, angostura bitters, edible flower

PREPARATION

  1. Put all the ingredients on a Boston shaker and dry shake (dry shake means without ice, to help emulsify the egg white). 
  2. When the egg white is emulsified, add ice and shake again to gain the right texture. 
  3. Pour into a coupe glass, then add 3 drops of angostura bitters and a sprinkling of cinnamon for decoration. 
  4. If you like, add an edible flower.

Mona Shah

Mona Shah is a multi-platform storyteller with expertise in digital communications, social media strategy, and content curation for Twitter and LinkedIn for C-suite executives. A journalist and editor,...